Free Parking

July 10, 2014

A local biking person was shocked (she’s young) to discover that – while Bigtownshire Council has been eeeeever so slooooowly considering maybe thinking about developing a cycling strategy but, you know, all in the fullness of time and only if there’s nothing urgent going on with the buses, let’s not go mad here – Bigtown has long had a parking strategy and that parking strategy is that for every parking space that is lost, a new parking space has to be created.

This in a way is odd, because as it happens, ‘lost’ parking spaces are quickly found again – there’s a street right on the edge of the town centre (where there has been rash talk of a bike contraflow lane) which has had double yellows on it for as long as we have lived up here, and people still park on it as if they weren’t there, despite it being ooh, 50 yards from an enormous, free (good Lord, you wouldn’t want to make people pay for parking would you?) car park, which complements the many dozens of other free car parks dotted around the town centre. Indeed, when I decided to join in the fun by parking my bike on the double yellows outside the bike shop (hey, I’ve got a kick stand now, which means I can just park it anywhere, as long as I don’t mind doing the 50 yard dash back towards it when it inevitably falls over as soon as I’ve gone out of sight), I was amused by all the filthy looks I got from drivers who were trying to park illegally on that street and had found that one of THEIR illegal parking spaces was being taken up by a bicycle. You could almost see them looking around for a traffic warden, except that all the traffic wardens have gone (replaced by the police allegedly), to universal rejoicing earlier this year. Oh how they regret that now…

Still, I got some inkling how they felt when I rounded the corner to meet a fellow bike conspirator at one of our favourite coffee and cake emporia to find that MY bike parking (leaning it up against the window where I could keep an eye on it) had been blocked by tables and chairs and people sitting around in the sunshine as though we were in France or something. The horrors. Fortunately we were able to score a table in the sun (and view of our bikes) ourselves – and were mollified by the proprietress coming out and inquiring about ‘one of those big planter bike parking things‘.

Clearly all my energetic tweeting about cake is beginning to pay off as the local coffee shops, if nothing else, start to realise that their real profit lies in the hollow legs and bottomless appetites of the local cycling community, and Bigtown’s parking strategy is about to get a lot more complicated … It’s not exactly a cycling strategy, but it’s a start.

A Listening Administration

June 11, 2014

The gadding continues, although the end is in sight: yesterday I was in Edinburgh for the day, partially camapaigny stuff, but mostly meeting up for lunch and attempting to cram several years’ worth of catch up gossip with two old school friends into a couple of hours. Having talked ourselves almost hoarse, and finished with a cheeky half (at four in the afternoon! The decadence!) in the pub in the station, I got on the train home to find I had seated myself opposite the leader of the coonsil, also on his way home from what sounded like a much less fun afternoon.

He gave me the slightly hunted look all politicians must reserve for the moment when one of their local single-issue activists has managed to corner them somewhere with no hope of escape for at least an hour. He manfully managed to connect my face to my cause, which is pretty impressive, and even bravely raised the subject of cycling, but I had work to do and to be honest he looked pretty worn out and did mention quite sadly that the weekend before he had been at some event in Glasgow and ended up next to someone from the area who spent the whole evening moaning to him about the state of the schools. I suppose it’s par for the course – especially round here – and part of the job and all that but I’m just not ruthless enough to spend a whole train journey talking some poor local politician into the ground even in the cause of cycling. Plus I’m pretty sure that promises made under those conditions would count as ‘duress’…

So he got to have his journey in mostly peace and quiet, and I got a bit of work done as planned, and we left on good terms which will hopefully stand me in good stead when I really need to bend his ear over something. Or maybe I’m just going soft in my old age. Time will tell.

Planting Matters

May 6, 2014

The downside of starting everything off in modules on the kitchen windowsill is that if you leave your mangetouts just starting to unfurl while you go off to That London, and your other half doesn’t think to open the kitchen blinds while he’s off at work all day for three days, your seedlings get rather leggy…

leggy seedlings

… of course the upside is that they come up at all. Not a given in our damp cold (yes, even in May) soil. They’ve had to be sent out for a break in the sunshine* like slum children to try and build up their strength for actual planting out.

In other news, I have planted my contraband. I’ll let you know if they come up, or alternatively, hatch…

*adjusted for being South West Scotland

The Road Home

May 2, 2014

It’s kind of hard to believe that this morning I was cycling past a wall of double-decker buses on Waterloo Bridge…

The road home

It’s been a fun few days in London, and the Brompton has certainly earned its keep (it’s earned a bath too – let’s just say that the tow path from Richmond to Teddington isn’t really recommended for those hoping to arrive at their destination not splattered in mud from head to foot). It’s been the first trip in ages when I haven’t had to top up my oyster at all, and I’ve enjoyed the sensation of actually being the fastest thing on the roads at times, instead of the slowest (rural cycling, lovely as it is, is never the quickest option). I feel like I’ve experienced a wider spectrum of London cycling than I ever tried when I lived there: from a suburban school run, to jousting with traffic, to trying out semi-decent segregated infrastructure (thank you, Camden Council), to inhaling a bee in a deer park (on the whole, not one for the bucket list although if things go badly the ‘before you die’ part could be quite imminent. I am fine, before you ask. The bee, on the other hand, is not).

Fun as it’s been, it’s been even better to come home. Not only was I relieved to get on the train at all with all my limbs intact (nothing to do with the traffic – I thought I had lost my return ticket and was going to have to pay the standard walk-up fare of one arm plus one leg) but it was just bliss to cycle home with the late afternoon sunshine dappling through the trees and the birds all singing, and the verges starting to fill with flowers.

I now have a billion things to catch up with that I’ve promised people I would look at after POP. But hopefully there will be a little time now to stop and smell the flowers…

London Lessons Learned

May 1, 2014

No time (too much gadding, sorry) to do a proper post … but here are some brief lessons learnt from my latest London adventures.

entrance to Finsbury Park

* When it’s a tube strike, and you’re filtering past a roughly mile-long tailback on a rat run towards Finsbury Park, it’s probably kind not to look *too* happy. Those drivers are already having a pretty horrible day, and you’re about to take a massive traffic-free shortcut through the park. Be nice, people

foggy day

* London is only really foggy in Dickens novels and Americans’ imaginations. Except when it actually is foggy. Lucky I’d brought my lights. Bizarrely, one of them managed to hop of the handlebars of my Brompton and into my jacket pocket on the way. I’ve still no idea how this happened

Brompton in the rain

* The school run is perfectly possible in the rain – especially if you have a spare pair of tights for your niece to change into when she arrives.

Wide road and verges
* There’s just no space for cycling on London’s roads.

Bike the Strike

April 29, 2014

So here I am in That London, having safely negotiated my way up to Palmers Green. I had to get myself first to the Holloway Road, which wasn’t too bad, at least until you get to Islington and the nice bike contraflows disappear and are replaced by a 20 mph zone, which is obviously awesome and everything, but not if you still end up at the wrong end of a one way street and having to cycle around some massive one-way system playing ‘please don’t kill me if you can help it Mr. Bus Driver’.*

Once done there, I decided to avoid the trains even though they were running, because even a folded Brompton is a bit too much bike to be squeezing onto a massively packed carriage full of Picadilly line refugees – and besides it’s actually easier to cycle the whole way to Palmer’s Green than it is to lug a Brompton through Highbury and Islington Station. I made my way northwards following a reasonably non scary route up to Alexandra Palace, from where I thought I knew way. Having made only a few wrong turns and stopped to check my A to Z hardly more than a dozen times, I found myself in the back streets north of Ally Pally consulting my map and wondering how pigeons manage to instinctively know where north is when I can’t even tell with the help of a map and two years in the Guides (there aren’t many trees with lichen on them in North London). A passing cyclist asked me if I needed any help and fortunately he was going my way because – and this is really the subject of tonight’s rant – because the way I thought I was going to go has been scuppered. I used to cut along the back streets and cross the North Circular at a handy pedestrian crossing, but apparently they have widened the road there since last summer and removed the crossing, replacing it with some topiary instead. Following my guide, we had to get onto Green Lanes (if you’re not familiar with North London this is neither green nor a lane but a standard issue scary London A road) and joust with the buses for road space to cross the North Circular on one of those head-down-and-pedal-like-all-the-hounds-of-hell-are-after-you junctions.*

I really cannot believe that they are taking pedestrian crossings out, in this day and age. Apparently, the Enfield mini-Holland funding will turn Green Lanes into, if not actually a green lane, but at least somewhere where you get your own space on the road without having to share it with double decker buses (which I swear have got bigger since I left London: were they always basically blocks of flats on wheels?) as long as the shopkeepers of Green Lanes don’t have their way and scupper it for the Great God Parking. Frankly, it can’t come soon enough, but even so, they’ve got to reinstate that crossing, if only for the pedestrians. Come on London, what on earth were you thinking?

Tomorrow, I think I’ll just take the train…

*If you’re reading this, Mum, I got off and walked at that bit

You Know you’re not in London any more…

March 28, 2014

… when you find your train journey enlivened by a stranger’s life story. I caught the Bigtown connection by the skin of my teeth this afternoon, and slid into one of the table seats beside what I took to be a mother and teenage daughter. The girl was soon chatting away merrily about the Brompton, the train service, her international gymnastics career (now retired), her As in maths, English and child care, her three-year-old daughter, the various fights she had got into in school after the announcement of her engagement, her plans for this evening (chicken curry cooked by her fiance’s sister if you’re interested), the fact that you can no longer get a half on the bus if you’ve got your own toddler in tow, and much much more. It soon became apparent that the older woman was not her mother – indeed, she was a stranger too, and as bemused as I was, as well as being slightly concerned. The barrage continued until the stop before Bigtown where the girl got off, with a cheery ‘see you later’. It was certainly an eye-opener and I suppose it beats one of those overheard telephone conversations that used to enliven my morning commute down in London, although it wasn’t much less one-sided…

You also know you’ve been in London when you come back feeling like you’re coming down with a lurgy. What with the public transport, all the people, school-age children and the pollution, my isolated country immune system just doesn’t stand a chance…


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